My Thoughts on Pain (Repost from 2011)

Being one that is chronically ill, pain becomes a multi-faceted word.  As of today, I am 27 years old and have undergone nearly 40 surgical procedures; with each one bringing me face to face with many types of pain.

As if that weren’t enough, two of my close friends, one I consider a true sister, passed away in as many years.

I learned at an early age, pain is a fixture in life.  In 1998, on my 14th birthday, I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a doctor’s appointment at a prestigious children’s hospital.  It was on that day that I was diagnosed with Lupus and kidney failure.  I was to immediately start IV steroidal and chemotherapy treatments.  Surprisingly enough, despite the physical pain, it was the emotional fallout that hurt the worst.  For a 14 year old girl, the nearly 80lbs the steroids helped me gain caused so much social damage, I would have gladly taken a million IV’s instead of facing my peers.  I was so overwhelmed with pain on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual that hearing the words “this is temporary” fell on deaf ears.

However, like most things during your teenage years, it was temporary.  Not my Lupus or kidney disease, mind you, but the pain in those moments was.  Yes, surgery is painful and most of the time, for quite a while – but, you heal.  Yes, using needles so large they should be illegal 3 times a week is painful – but after a few hours, they are removed.  Physical pain tends to be treatable.  Maybe not curable, but as a race, we humans can make it tolerable.  So when I was asked to share my thoughts on pain, my mind went the route I am most familiar with: physical pain.  That is the easy kind, the kind that, for me, eventually goes away.

But, the real pain for me comes from loosing two great friends.  One I learned passed away because she was a victim of murder; her spouse being the number 1 suspect.  The other, my very best friend, due to health complications on an Easter morning.  For me, these are pains I cannot shake.  They are pains I am promised will get lighter.  The are also pains that I am afraid to heal, because as I have learned from my experience with physical pain – healing hurts as well, if not more.

I could write a novel how to handle physical pain, but am clueless as to handle pain in this capacity.  On my closet mirror at home, I have written “Just because they are in Heaven, it does not mean they are separated from us, because we are all part of the Body of Christ.”  It was something my pastor here in Florida had once said in a sermon and it brings me comfort.

So, day by day, needle by needle, memory to memory – I heal a little bit more.  You think I would know by now that all healing, no matter the kind takes time – but those that know me best know how impatient I can be.  All I can do is thank God that He created the healing aspect of life; because He certainly wasn’t obligated to!  That along with knowing that we as Christians will undoubtedly experience total healing and the existence He intended for us with Him in Heaven – makes the pain all the more bearable.

-Kara Netzel

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The Valley

valleyAs I sit and write this blog post today, I can’t help but experience a variety of emotions. I have a hidden discouragement that is covered by a smile, but secretly I am in pain. I am in a valley. You may have been where I am as well. If you know me very well, you may now know that I lost my day job this week.

Before you get upset at the company for letting me go, let me be very clear…the company I worked for was amazing in every sense of the word. I was good at what I did, but there were a few functions of the job that I simply was not wired for. As a result, they asked me to leave. I have never been terminated before, so you can imagine the feelings that were flooding my brain and heart during this conversation.

The good thing is…my relationship with the leadership of my former place of employment is fully in tact, and there is no hard feelings. In fact, during the final meeting I had with my employers, we prayed together and cried. It was a decision that I think they needed to make and it will better the company.

I am a bivocational pastor, so losing my full time job was quite the hit. When the words were spoken, my heart sank. Immediately I began to think about providing for my family and the malnourished bank account we already had.  I was mad at God, and wondered how He could let this happen. I cried, and thought I was all alone. I felt worthless. I felt shame. I felt embarrassed. Not only was I in a deep valley…but it was a big valley.

When I walked out of my place of employment for the last time, I made a promise to myself and to God. I promised that I would be open and transparent about the physical and emotional journey I was on; from the very moment I was let go. It is a hard promise to keep. I am doing this, because I think there are many people who are going through (or have gone through) this situation and wonder if the thoughts they are having are normal, and if the struggle they have is appropriate. You are not alone. Like I said…I am in a valley. You have been in this valley too. Many times. You may have not lost a job, but you have lost a loved one or wondered where the next dollar was coming from.

The valley is an interesting place to be. As humans, we avoid the situations that lead us to this point, but we can all honestly say we know the feeling well. While going through times that make us feel pain, all we want to do is get away and make the hurting stop. We want to do this, because we are afraid that it will never end. Sometimes, we lose our hope and don’t know where to turn. And, when we are being led through the valley, all we can do is look up to the mountaintops and long to be there with the people that have smiles plastered on their faces.

Why does God allow us to be in the valley? As I have waded through a knee-deep pile of confusion and pain, I think I may have figured something out about this mystery. As I have reflected on this illustration, I have realized that water does not stay on the mountain peaks, but always funnels down crevices and declines until it empties into the vast depths of the valley.

I think this is how God’s grace works. Sometimes, we experience a more powerful display of the living water when we are going through the lowest points in our journey. Even if you are at your lowest point…I can tell you it is about to rain. Look up and receive the water. Grace is coming.

All I can do at this point is look up and praise my God…and expect miracles. I am at peace.

-Landon DeCrastos

 

5 Confessions of a Tired Pastor

Yawning2At 2:30pm today, I hit the wall…you know what wall I am talking about. The one you may hit everyday too. I try so desperately to fight it, but often it overtakes my every move. A yawn escapes and there is something so satisfying about letting it go. It may be my personality, but I often find myself in these moments snapping myself out of a daydream. I do that often…I can’t seem to help it. Then, somehow, I make it through. I leave work and come home to a house teeming with life, pretend and snotty noses…and then it is bedtime for the kids and sometimes I stare at a blinking cursor…knowing that God wants me to share my heart, but with droopy eyelids. This is my life.

As a bivocational pastor, I have found myself getting into unhealthy routines because my brain and heart are on autopilot. Between my day job, preaching, visiting people in the hospital, counseling people, putting out fires, parenting, and life in general it is easy to make excuses for myself. As I write this blog today, I feel led to admit some things you may not know about me. I am tired…and I have some confessions to make.

The following are 5 confessions I have about my life as a pastor:

1. I don’t get into God’s word like I should– It is funny. The most energizing and life giving activity that I engage in is something that is often put on the back burner. Granted, I do dip into scripture regularly to prepare my messages, but I definitely feel the damage when I get into a habit of “snacking” on scripture and neglect the full meals that I need. I know that God is not going to keep me from Heaven because I got half way through the Psalms and got side tracked…and really that’s not the point. The point of soaking in scripture is to fall more in love with the author. I need this.

2. Sometimes I want to cuss– It’s true. It really affects the glow of my halo too. Don’t worry conservative fan base….I don’t, but I want to. Often something will come up that is stressful, or I have realized I have dropped the ball on a project, and I get as far as a “crud” and dare not go any further. What I have found, for me, is that the less I soak in scripture as mentioned above, the more these thoughts erupt.

3. From time to time I pray selfishly– It is a joy to pray for people in their time of need or simply when they come to mind. I will confess that there are rare times when I simply want to have what I want. A fat bank account, a new house, a smaller pant size, and the list goes on and on. As a result of these things, sometimes God hears about it…and the prayer request that someone gives me comes second. God checks me during these times, and reminds me of the blessings that He has provided…or…at the moment I will see one of my children boumding past my view and I am reminded how rich I am.

4. I find myself not trusting God– There are times where I look at the bank account and the prognosis doesn’t look good or I gear up for a relational battle that I think may be coming, and I forget that God is supposed to be in control. I try to take hold of the outcome so I am not left looking silly or so I can still look good. God has shown me, so many times, that his timing and methods are perfect. I don’t have to worry…but I confess that even though I preach this at church regularly, I often get caught in the negativity trap.

5. I often feel sorry for myself– If something happens to me or there were not many people at church this Sunday, I tend to have a short-lived pity party. It is a trance that I get into. I convince myself no one cares and no one should care, and I begin to get upset based on a false reality that I create in my mind. I think God wants so much more for me. He is always waiting for me, to snap out of it, and return to serving.

Like mentioned above, it is easy to come up with excuse after excuse. I could tell you about all the things I need to do between now and next week and cite these things as a reason for the way I handle situations. I am tired. I am a pastor. I desire to know Him more and serve Him. I get angry, and I falter. Obviously, I know God wants more from me. Sometimes it is really hard. But, when I think about it…I wouldn’t have it any other way. What keeps me going is the celebration I see in a person’s eyes when God reveals Himself to them in a mighty way. Really…I am living the dream, and my faults are opportunities to be transformed. I am not perfect but God is chpping away at my edges. I am so grateful.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Problem with Pain

There is an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. It is one that every human being has experienced and will continue to experience until they enter their eternity. This epidemic is the ailment we call pain.

For the most part, humans try to avoid pain, or when they are in the midst of it, attempt to find some sort of sedation. I see this every day in my day job (a doctor’s office). People call every day wanting their pain medications and depression drugs so that they will not have to feel what is affecting them.

People are in pain….I get that. It hurts….I get that too. Pain is not always a physical malady that we can treat with medication, but often hits us in our emotional center. This often hurts us the most. It feels better to alleviate it….It is easier to concentrate when it is gone.

I think we often misunderstand the interplay of God and our perceived archenemy; pain. We assume that God’s main job in life is to take away our pain, and even prevent it. I tend to agree, mostly, with these assumptions but I think there are times where pain is a necessary tool to use to guide us to holiness.

In ancient times, when a lamb would wander away from its shepherd, the shepherd would break a leg of the lamb and carry it on his shoulders until it is healed. The pain for the lamb would be trememdous and the shepherd would also experience turmoil for the pain that it inflicted on the lamb. The point? The lamb’s leg was going to heal and simultaneously this delicate animal would learn to fully depend upon its master. The nature of the relationship changes for the two characters in this story and, at the same time, the lamb’s leg is stronger than ever.

Why do we equate pain with evil? God never said that pain didn’t exist before the fall of man…He just said that the fall would be painful (childbirth, death, etc).

God cares about your pain and truly desires to heal you……Just don’t allow any suffering you experience to be wasted.

Becoming Well

heart

I am a terrible patient.

Lately, I have experienced a cough that has lasted around a month, and each day it becomes more annoying.  A few weeks ago i broke down and went to a local immediate care facility and was given antibiotics. They did nothing for me. I then decided to live with my ailment and essentially ignore the symptoms that I was having. It was okay at first, but the more I coughed and wheezed, the more people made comments about my condition. “You need to go back to the doctor”, some would say. Others would try to diagnose me based on their personal experience.

I have to say that I got tired of hearing people tell me that something was wrong.  I would roll my eyes, and ignore their advice. I developed a wall of pride that prevented me from seeing the real issue.

How many times do we do this? We slowly (not necessarily on purpose) eliminate intimate times with God, and our priorities become skewed. The lack of regular resourcing from God’s spirit begins to erode us to the point of burnout and exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong….even when we are in God’s will exhaustion can still come, but it is a different response. This exhaustion can lead to bitterness and what I displayed; pride.

When we are in this situation we can become somewhat irritated when someone points out our visible change. Our eyes have lost their sparkle and our desire for “His will……on earth as it is is heaven” has disolved.

God wants us to be well. He wants to spend regular time with us and pour His spirit out upon our lives. Not to magically give us wealth or influence, but a resourcing that will not only get us through the hard times, but will also help our testimony be meaningful to others.

In humility, we need to approach the Great Physician. We may be afraid of the potential diagnoses, but the future will be filled with unlimited potential if we obey.

The enemy of our souls wants us to believe that we are alone in the fight to become well. We know better than that….

-Landon DeCrastos

The Pattern of Pain

If I kicked you in the shin what would you do? This may seem like a silly question but the answer to this may help us understand how we react to pain. In general, it is safe to say that most humans have the same pattern of response to an assault that inflicts pain. The visual display may look different but the reaction has similar foundations. This same response can not only be seen with physical pain but also with the infliction of emotional distress.

As I have been reflecting about the concept of pain, 3 steps (obviously not the only steps) of pain response come to mind that manifest in different ways.

1. Expression of Pain (OUCH!)- When many experience an unwelcome trespass on their comfort, the natural urge is to make that infraction known. The reflex of expression shows the assailant that harm has been done and that, at the very least, restitution is deserved. Some try to mask this step by acting like everything is okay, but the bottled hurt manifests itself in other areas of life.

2. Anger- When a person comes to terms with the fact that there has been harm done to them anger or indignation occurs. This anger causes the mind to think of ways justice can be served. “Lashing out” for retribution often occurs. This reaction could be passive, and the individual may seek justice but this justice may look more like “pity” or the infliction of guilt on the opponent.

3. Questioning the Event– When someone is “kicked in the shin”, as was started earlier; the final response may be to question why they were the one hurt. Often times, if the answer is not adequate to the one harmed a new pattern of pain commences. A new cycle has begun.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, we can see this same pattern in our spiritual lives. Many people have been dealing with deep pain for a very long time. Pain that is unresolved can feed a cycle that leads to deeper anger, bitterness, and even addictions. If we can’t understand why we are hurting, or even refuse to seek an answer (we have become comfortable in our suffering) then doubt, fear, anxiety, or unhealthy relationships have a natural breeding ground.

Seek to understand how you respond to pain.

God is not calling us to lead a pain free life, but to be a living example of what healing looks like.

-Landon DeCrastos

Pain Lessons

Pain is an unavoidable part of life. Christians and non-Christians alike endure pain on a daily basis. Whether through circumstances, consequences, or external influences, the reality of pain is inescapable regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other human characteristic. Why, then, do Christians (and by Christian I mean someone truly bearing his Cross, and not only attending services and potlucks each Sunday) see pain as a positive aspect of life? What could lead a group of individuals whose endgame culminates in a painless, eternal world to value pain in an afflicted, temporary one? Who would choose to follow a man who famously said “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and why? If, as many world religions promise, there is no guarantee of eliminated or even reduced pain in Christianity, why choose it?

The simple reason is wisdom. While unavoidable, pain is also the most instructive part of life. It teaches in a way that transcends mere acquisition and application of knowledge. Pain instills lessons which penetrate to the core of one’s being in ways that cannot be easily forgotten. A parent scolds his child not to grab a hot pan, but a thousand verbal exhortations will never compare to a single curious touch; ever after the child will know to approach items of unknown temperature with caution. One does not learn by sitting alone in his room reading about the deeds of others, but rather by doing and experiencing the world himself. Only through the endurance of trials do we gain insight into our limits, our capabilities, and our inner selves. Just like the child with a pan, a man can be told by his friends that he has a caustic personality, that his manner is offensive, or that his work ethic is lacking, but until he undergoes and accepts the pain of loneliness, the realization of the distance people maintain from him, or the real reason he is constantly passed over for promotion, he will never learn and grow from his realization. He might venture to become kinder, mind his decorum around others, and truly shoulder his fair share of the work, and then, having experienced and learned from his pain might he grow a little wiser.

Unfortunately, not all pain in the human experience is as transitory or immediate as a hot pan or as identifiable as one’s personality quirks. Constant verbal degradation from one’s superiors may lead to an oppressive work environment, social detachment, and depression. Singularly traumatizing events such as the death of a loved one, betrayal by a close friend, or abuse at the hands of a supposedly trusted guardian leave us jaded, sad, and confused, with questions to which no one knows the answers. If pain is instructive, and we believe in an all-powerful Savior who has promised relief from torment, how do we reconcile some of the deepest, most devastating moments of life with our Savior’s pledge?

First, relief comes from understanding that we live in a fallen world from which we ultimately have an escape. Physical exercise is arduous during the exertion but exhilarating at the end, and the results leave us with an unparalleled sense of satisfaction. Surgery to remove a malignant growth or to repair damaged tissue is physically painful, but knowing it will result in eventual relief is sufficient reason to undergo the process. Just so, we must remember that, as Christians, we have an end in sight, which is Heaven. Any pain we faithfully endure in this life will be more than compensated in the next. Any one who claims to be a Christian and yet has a fear of death must seriously reexamine his faith, for as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” While we live, we have the promises of Christ, but when our physical bodies at last expire, we will gain life in abundance within the gates of Heaven. Take comfort, Christian! Though the dark veil of this world makes eternity hard to see, we can constantly pray and encourage one another to remember that this too shall pass, no matter how permanent it may seem.

Second, relief comes from asking for God’s help. Christ, as our intercessor, took upon Himself our fallen nature and replaced it with His own. When God looks at us, He sees a member of His family whom He would unhesitatingly wish to help. However, just as parents make their children work to earn privileges and rewards, so does God expect us to learn life lessons His way. More often than not, the pain we are currently experiencing is teaching us the insight we will shortly need to accomplish a task for our Lord. In other words, if we are hurting and ask the Lord to relieve us of it, He will do us one better. Rather than simply snap His fingers and remove from us any trouble, He will teach us – for the asking – the nature of our pain, the value of its endurance, and the application of its purpose. You may have heard of this as “patience,” sometimes called the lemon of the Fruits of the Spirit, and the least marketable aspect of Christianity. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but for many it is “good enough.” God doesn’t want good enough children – He wants extraordinary children, and He “disciplines those He loves” (Hebrews 12:6). Discipline may be painful, but for it we are better, wiser, and stronger.

Remember, in the end, it will be all right; if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

-Adam Netzel